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Reclaiming the Yom Ha’atzmaut Prayer Service

April 29, 2012 – 7:58 pm51 Comments

By Mark Symons

Every year, the Melbourne Orthodox community conducts a communal Yom Ha’atzmaut  (Israeli Independence Day) prayer service. But it is a community service in name only. The rabbis and presidents of most Orthodox congregations do attend (most rabbis being allocated parts of the service to lead), but very few of their members. The overwhelming majority of the attendants tend to be Mizrachi members, the venue where the service is always held.

Possible reasons for this are:

• The service may be perceived as a Mizrachi one (apart from the venue, Mizrachi plays a major role in organising the service and its format; its members take a disproportionate part in leading it) so that others may feel excluded.

• People may not regard a special Yom Ha’atzmaut prayer service as important – perhaps this view is shared by the rabbis and leaders of the other congregations; perhaps the rabbis and leaders do regard it as important, but don’t strongly push it; perhaps they do push it, but don’t succeed in motivating their congregants to share their views or put them into practice.

• People are very parochial when it comes to shules, and often don’t feel inclined to attend services at shules other than their own, which they feel part of.

One solution may be to hold the service at another synagogue. That should at least lead to increased attendance from members of that synagogue, as they would feel more “ownership” of it, especially if their rabbi and leaders promoted it. Perhaps there would be an advantage in a venue like Caulfield Shule, which may be perceived as more “neutral”, and belonging to the community as a whole. (Seating both men and women downstairs would fill the considerably larger space more effectively, as well as allowing the women to feel less like spectators). One would expect that Mizrachi members, being Religious Zionists already committed to the importance of prayer being an integral part celebrating Israel’s independence, would attend wherever the service is held.

But I believe that the best way to increase attendance and participation is to abandon the attempt at the community service, and for Yom Ha’atzmaut prayer to be reclaimed by the individual congregations.  It’s time to treat Yom Ha’atzmaut as a “real” chag – so that just as each individual congregation holds its own service, in its own way, for Pesach, Rosh Hashana, and Purim, so they should now do for Chag Ha’atzmaut.

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